Photo: Ojai Valley Inn
What makes the best pool for an adult getaway or a family vacation? The swimming-tinged analogy “different strokes for different folks” holds one clue. Some grownups may never dip their toe in the water, but appreciate a dazzling view from a chaise lounge, solicitous service to their poolside cabana, or the adults-only indulgence of a swim-up bar. Kids, meanwhile, may be just as delighted with an old-fashioned kidney-bean pool as with a resort complex boasting slides, waterfalls, fountains and more.
Whether you’re unwinding in wine country, hanging out with celebrities in Hollywood or frolicking on a family vacation in Carmel, choosing a resort with a pool can add new luster to your Golden State getaway. Here are some notables, from north to south.
Wine Country and Lake Tahoe
On Tahoe’s South Shore, ogle the lake and mountains from the year-round pool at Edgewood Resort, which recently added two-, three- and five-bedroom lake-view Villa Suites on the eighth and ninth fairways of its golf course. The Brockway Springs Resort on the North Shore, which offers more modest vacation rentals in townhome condos, relies on natural hot springs to heat its lakeside pool and children’s wading pool.
In Napa, Auberge resorts are known for their pools as well as poshness, including the original, adults-only Auberge du Soleil; Solage, home to five mineral soaking pools, a 130-foot-main pool and a children’s splash pad; and the new 732-acre Stanly Ranch, which has a hilltop spa pool and a family pool surrounded by lavender shrubs. At the similarly luxurious Carneros Resort and Spa, cabanas and lounges line the adults-only Hilltop Pool with sweeping vistas, while the family-friendly Otto’s Pool, next to the fitness center, is also ideal for lap swimming. Those who really want to immerse themselves in the region’s thermal waters should head to Indian Springs Calistoga, home to an Olympic-sized mineral pool and a smaller, cooler adult pool, both open till midnight.
The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa draws on the mineral waters of Boyes Hot Springs, some 1,000 feet below ground, for its spacious main pool, five spa pools and watsu (water massage) pool. Check out the Cabernet Sauvignon vines from the zero-edge adult pool at Montage Healdsburg, which also has a family pool next to putt-putt golf and other kid-friendly activities. The Lodge at Bodega Bay, meanwhile, may not have the fanciest or largest pool, but its views of the ocean and Bodega Head, especially from the wind-protected hot tub, will warm the heart on even the foggiest of days.
Santa Cruz, Carmel and Big Sur
Sure, the beach may be the big draw in Santa Cruz, but you can easily alternate between the surf and the smartly renovated pool deck at the Dream Inn on Cowell Beach. Or, take a break from the beach crowds and head to the redwoods, which frame the view from Chaminade Resort & Spa’s twin pools with new cabana service.
Pools in Carmel tend to be petite; family-friendly Hofsas House has one of the larger ones, plus two dry saunas that feel delicious post-swim. In Carmel Valley, lots of sun and space make pools even more inviting, especially at Carmel Valley Ranch, which has three spacious saltwater pools (two just for adults), each with an adjacent hot tub. At Bernardus Lodge, also in Carmel Valley, there’s an adults-only whirlpool on a small hill by its residential-style villas and suites, as well as a sunny main pool by the original rooms and secluded “warming pool” in the spa.
In Big Sur, the venerable, adults-only Post Ranch Inn claims the most spectacular ocean views from its two cliffside infinity spa pools; stretch your limbs in the sunny lap pool. High in the hills across Highway 1, Alila Ventana Big Sur is also only for adults, with two pools: The Meadow Pool, which has ocean views from the chaise lounges and a forest panorama from its infinity-edge hot tub, and the clothing-optional Mountain Pool, which faces the ocean and abuts the Japanese Bathhouses (men’s, women’s and coed.) The relative bargain Big Sur River Inn has a smaller, seasonal pool, but also offers a semi-immersive option of lounging in an Adirondack chair in the river.
The Central Coast
The rooftop pool at chic Hotel Cerro in San Luis Obispo showcases views of tree-studded hills from its cabanas and popular daytime restaurant and bar. For more rural environs, repair to the 20-acre Allegretto Vineyard Resort in Paso Robles, a Tuscan-style oasis where bright blue umbrellas shade the lounges by the long, sun-soaked pool.
In Ventura County, the inland Ojai Valley Inn, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, features mountain views and oversized cabanas at its adults-only Indigo Pool; its sizable family Pixie Pool — named for the iconic citrus that perfumes the valley in late spring — includes a large fireplace and hot tub on its substantial pool deck. Enjoy a fresh-pressed juice by the Tranquility Pool at the inn’s Spa Ojai, which also holds a two-lane, 60-foot lap pool with hot tub and Arcadian views.
Los Angeles and Orange County
Rooftop pools abound in the City of Angels, offering a sense of exclusivity as well as eye-popping views, such as those of the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills; Pendry West Hollywood; and the Hollywood Roosevelt, built in 1927. The retro Tropicana Pool and Bar even boasts a mural by David Hockney, the painter of L.A. pools par excellence.
The pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel may be ground level, but it’s hardly down to earth: Celebrities including Katharine Hepburn and the Beatles have splashed here, and modern luminaries still frequent the 11 cabanas and poolside Cabana Café.
In Santa Monica, Shutters on the Beach places its stylish pool terrace with whirlpool spa discreetly above the sand, yet still with dreamy sunset and ocean views. The 102-acre oceanfront Terranea Resort sits atop the rugged Palos Verdes Peninsula with four pools, all overlooking the Pacific: one for families that includes a 140-foot slide; a 25-meter lap pool reserved for spa guests; a saltwater pool and hot tub for guests 13 and older; and the cozy, adults-only Cielo Point Pool, which also has a view of Catalina Island.
In Orange County, bluff-top resorts with fabulous pools are not uncommon. The Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach in Dana Point, which has the trifecta of beguiling resort, family and spa pools, is notable in also recently completing a $300 million refresh of its 400 rooms and suites. Lido House, a 118-room Newport Beach hotel that’s part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, is known for its rooftop bar but also has a secluded pool with wide steps in each of its four corners for those who prefer gradual immersion; cute cabanas and creative lawn games are also at hand. Huntington Beach’s top-rated Paséa Hotel & Spa serves as a bridge between urban bustle and the beach with an elevated, sheltered pool.
San Diego and Palm Springs
Like Orange County, the cliffside resorts of northern San Diego County brim with ocean-view pools; among the newest is Alila Marea Beach Resort, which opened on the Pacific Coast Highway in Encinitas in 2021. Near Oceanside’s historic pier, Mission Pacific Hotel is a popular oceanfront boutique hotel with not only a Michelin-recognized restaurant, Valle, but also Oceanside’s only rooftop pool and bar.
You can’t go wrong with a beachfront classic like the Hotel del Coronado, opened in 1888, where the Olympic-sized Cabana Pool comes with an array of lounges, daybeds and cabanas, plus the very modern option of virtual reality snorkeling sessions. A winding waterfront pool with cabanas and shallow wading pool at the newly transformed San Diego Mission Bay Resort are just steps from the hotel’s private beach, where bonfires, bean bag toss and beach volleyball are possible.
In greater Palm Springs, nearly every boutique renovation of a mid-century modern motel has kept their original smallish pools, focusing on stylish lounge chairs and cabanas to spruce up the areas. The larger resorts have more room to go over the top, as at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa, where its new water park includes a 450-foot lazy river, two towering water slides for dueling descents, a splash pad for kids and private cabanas. Red tile-roofed casitas form clusters around the 41 pools of the iconic La Quinta Resort & Club, among them the main pool with a hot tub, fireplace and stunning views of the Santa Rosa Mountains; a three-lane lap pool; the Plunge 21+ Adult Pool and five private pools with hot tubs exclusive to their adjacent luxury suite.
Sensei Porcupine Creek, Larry Ellison’s new wellness retreat in Rancho Mirage, takes a less-is-more approach with both accommodations and pools. There’s just one lovely lagoon pool for its 10 Estate House rooms, four casitas with private hot tubs and eight villas, but there are plenty of nooks for those who prefer their privacy.
Splashing Out at Hearst Castle
To swim in a truly palatial pool, join the Foundation at Hearst Castle. Several times a year, the nonprofit allows members the opportunity to swim in one of the San Simeon landmark’s two pools for a princely sum of $1,000. This year, up to 40 members — who also pay membership fees that start at $500 a year — can reserve splash time in the outdoor, marble-lined Neptune Pool designed and enlarged twice by William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan.